I think we all expected when NASCAR announced that the Next Gen NASCAR Cup Series car would feature spec parts from vendors, that were not to be tinkered with by teams, that teams would eventually ignore NASCAR’s rules to not modify components of the car in an effort to gain an advantage. I just don’t think any of us expected that anyone would actually attempt it in the season’s opening race.
But alas, here we are as NASCAR on Friday sent out a note that they had taken possession of wheels from Team Penske and RFK Racing. NASCAR stated that the confiscated parts will be taken to the NASCAR R&D Center in Concord, N.C. for further inspection.
NASCAR, as they always do, did not immediately issue a penalty to the teams, but will issue penalties, if there are any to be issued, following the R&D Center inspection.
Now, NASCAR is at a unique crossroad. Do they drop the hammer and send a message to teams that they will not tolerate tinkering with any components by teams trying to gain a competitive edge, or do they give a massive slap on the wrist and explain to teams that the next offenders wont be so lucky?
It’s an interesting question, and an important one, as the two teams that had their wheels seized are the two teams that competed the strongest in Thursday night’s Duel Qualifying races. RFK Racing swept the win in both Duels, while Team Penske drivers played a hand in the finishes of both races.
Is it a coincidence that those two teams, which rose to the top in the Duel races, had parts confiscated by the sanctioning body? If so, what a coincidence.
This will be a massive story to watch as the Daytona 500 week concludes and we head into the meat and potatoes of the actual 2022 season. With a brand new car, which has leveled the playing field, it’ll be interesting to see who finds an early advantage this season and more importantly, how they find that advantage.
Equally intriguing will be the weekly penalty report, as NASCAR announced a new penalty structure back on January 24th, which laid out new L1 and L2 penalties, which pertain to modification of NASCAR Next Gen vendor supplied parts.
If NASCAR decides there was an infraction, ultimately and deems the parts were out of tolerance, but that the team necessarily may not have altered the parts, the two teams could face a 20-75 point deduction, 1-10 playoff point deduction, a 1-3 race suspension for team member(s) on team roster, 1 team event roster position subject to suspension and a $25,000-$100,000 fine.
If NASCAR determines the teams made the modifications to the wheels, that would be potentially subject to an L2 to L3 penalty, which would result in the loss of 75-180 points, 10-50 Playoff Point deduction, 4-6 race suspension for team member(s) on team roster, 1-2 team event roster positions subject to suspension, and a $100,000 to $500,000 fine. If the penalty is of the L3 variety, NASCAR could choose to suspend the offending car number for one race and he driver/team could be stripped of playoff eligibility.
So, keep an eye on this situation. It’ll be interesting what NASCAR determines and how they choose to proceed.